Shared Mobility

Public Bikesharing in North America

IT-based public bikesharing has grown rapidly in North America over the past eight years. What are the trends in business models employed by bikesharing operators? What are the user impacts across cities of differing system and population sizes?

A 2014 Mineta Transportation Institute study by Shaheen et al. evaluated public bikesharing systems in North America from several angles. The study developed operator and member surveys to analyze current operational practices, business models, membership demographics and environmental and social impacts.

The study found that in 2012, there were 28 IT-based public bikesharing programs with approximately 1.1 million users sharing 17,344 bicycles at 1,599 locations in North America. Between 2007 and December 2013, there were 37 IT-based public bikesharing program launches and three program closures in the United States; four program launches and no program closures in Canada; and three program launches and no program closures in Mexico.

Bikesharing operator trends

In North America, casual users accounted for 85.5 percent of all bikesharing users during 2012. At the close of the 2012 season, the majority of bikesharing programs were non-profits (representing 15 of 28).

Of responding North American operators, sponsorships accounted for approximately 42 percent of operating revenue, 22 percent came from membership fees, and 19 percent from usage fees. During the 2012 season, a daily (24-hour) membership pass in the U.S. averaged about 7.75 US dollars and an annual membership about 62 US dollars.

Bikesharing user impacts

In addition to operator surveys, an online member survey was implemented in five cities: Montreal, Toronto, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Mexico City.

The member survey found that respondents reduced their bus usage since joining bikesharing in four of the five cities. Likewise, it found that bikesharing reduced driving by large margins across all five cities.

Rail usage among surveyed members varied, more members in Salt Lake City and Minneapolis-St. Paul increased (14 percent and 11 percent, respectively) their use of rail rather than decreased it (7 percent and 2 percent, respectively). In Montreal and Toronto, however, 57 percent and 49 percent reported decreasing rail usage, while 7 percent and 8 percent reported increasing rail use. Finally in Mexico City, 17 percent reported decreasing rail while 13 percent reported increasing rail.

These modal shifts in rail are likely due to differences in public transit networks of the respective cities. Mexico City, Montreal and Toronto are all large cities with dense public transit networks. In contrast, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City are relatively smaller, with less intensive transit systems.

The future of public bikesharing in North America

Bikesharing can have varying impacts depending on differing city and system attributes. It is important for public bikesharing operators and the municipalities they are functioning in to consider these factors to better plan new bikesharing systems or future expansion.

Efforts toward this have already started and in Spring 2014, public bikesharing operators joined together to form the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA) to encourage collaboration and best practices among bikesharing system owners, managers, operators and service vendors.

How often and for what kind of commute, do you use public bikesharing system? Share your opinions in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


  • Sebastian Schlebusch
    27. September 2015 at 14:55

    The main conclusion of this survey seems to be that bike sharing cannibalises public transport. As not public transport should be cannibalised but private car trips, it seems evident that bike share implementation strategies need to focus on how to integrate those two modes of transport into a coherent mobility system.

    In Germany for example, the combination of bus, rail and NMT has a particular name. “Umweltverbund” can be translated by environmental friendly mobility and foucsses on briging the gap between these different modes of transport. This holistic reconceptualisation of the urban mobiity system has lead to public transport authorities or operators becoming more and more the lead agencies for bike sharing system implementation in Germany.

    Four main areas of integration have been developed to S.T.I.M.ulate a multimodal “Umweltverbund”:

    S…ystem integration – usage of a common smart card instead of exclusive key fobs
    T…ariff integration – include bike share memberships into public transport seasonal passes
    I…infrastructure – provide bike share stations at every public transport link
    M…arketing integration – develop coherent marketing strategies to promote combined mobility

    One interesting project was launched by the KVB (Cologne Public Transport Company). It uses smart bikes to facilitate the usage of the existing public transport smart card, enabling more than 300,000 existing public transport customers to utilize the bike sharing system without additional registration providing free trips of up to 30 min.

  • Pallavi Reddy
    28. September 2015 at 10:04

    Hi Sebschleb, those are some very interesting points you make and thanks for elaborating. I agree that the project launched by KVB seems to be a perfect example for bike sharing and public transport integration. Is this system only accessible via e-ticket or also accessible via smartphone?

  • Sebastian Schlebusch
    28. September 2015 at 11:52

    Hi Pallavi,

    this system is accessible via smart card and App. In addition user can call the hotline to rent a bike via IVR or enter their username (mobile phone no) + PIN at the boardcomputer.

  • Susan Shaheen
    29. September 2015 at 2:18

    Dear Sebastian, Thanks for your comment. One of the conclusions of our research is that bikesharing both complemented and competed with public transit. It is interesting to note that one city wanted public bikesharing to help supplement its public transit services, which are at or above capacity during peak hours. Some might call this competition–as many now take bikesharing during peak hours in the city core. We chose to interpret the results as public bikesharing being a form of public transportation or extension of it. We also saw that public bikesharing served as a first-mile/last-mile connector, which can grow the public transit share. Finally, smart card integration is highly desirable and something we are working on in the U.S. Again, thank you for sharing your experiences from Germany. Learning from other locations and best practices will help to grow our overall understanding.

  • pauld
    29. September 2015 at 2:31

    Hello Sebastien
    The program you describe sounds like a great approach to incorporating bike sharing into a mobility solution that encourages public transport. I also agree that our primary goal is to reduce the number of private car trips. However, in many large cities the public transport system is overloaded and underfunded and would benefit from some cannibalization from bicycles. I’m sure that more time in the saddle would also benefit the health of transit riders.

    Paul Dyck


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